Ian Clarkin throws 4 innings in Arizona Fall League debut

(MLB.com screen grab)
(MLB.com screen grab)

For the first time in 2015, left-hander Ian Clarkin pitched in an official game this afternoon. Clarkin threw four innings for the Surprise Saguaros in the Arizona Fall League, allowing one run on three singles, one double, and three walks. He struck out two, got six ground outs, no fly outs, and threw 37 of 64 pitches for strikes (58%). Here’s the box score.

“I thought I pitched pretty well,” said Clarkin to William Boor. “It’s really good for me to have a starting point to make adjustments into my next start … It felt great. It was hard for them to take me out of today’s game. Obviously when they tell me I’m done, I’m done, but I wanted to go back out there”

Clarkin, 21, came into the season as the Yankees’ fourth best prospect. He then came down with a mysterious elbow injury and missed the season. It was originally called inflammation back in Spring Training. Clarkin was on a throwing program in August and September and has been pitching in Instructional League the last few weeks.

Keith Law was at this afternoon’s game and said Clarkin was sitting 90-92 mph with “that same good curveball he’s always had,” so that’s good news. His fastball/curveball combination has returned to where it was before the injury. Clarkin also throws a changeup and picked up a cutter last season. Here’s video of him warming up in the bullpen today.

“I think he threw the ball well, worked ahead in the count,” said Saguaros and Double-A Trenton pitching coach Jose Rosado to Boor. “It’s fun to watch a lefty so young in this league. It’s fun, especially when he’s able to work ahead in the count.”

The 2015 season is a lost season at this point, but at least the AzFL stint will allow Clarkin to get some competitive innings under his belt before going home for the winter. The AzFL season ends in about a month, so with any luck, Clarkin will throw another 25-30 innings this year.

“All I’m worried about is going out and dominating,” added Clarkin. “I have a lot more left in the tank. I’m happy that I have a starting point, but I can do a lot more. I expect a lot more.”

Heyman: Zack Greinke to opt out of contract, Yankees expected to pursue rotation help

(Sean M. Haffey/Getty)
(Sean M. Haffey/Getty)

According to Jon Heyman, Dodgers right-hander Zack Greinke will exercise the opt-out clause in his contract after the season. He has three years and $71M left on his deal. Given his monster Cy Young caliber season, it would have been a surprise if Greinke didn’t exercise the opt-out clause. He should clear that $71M easily this winter.

Greinke, who turns 32 later this week, had a 1.66 ERA (2.76 FIP) in 32 starts and 222.1 innings this seasons. Since 2008 he owns a 2.99 ERA (3.02 FIP) while averaging 205 innings per season. Greinke’s a true ace and it seems like the consensus is he will age well because he doesn’t rely on velocity. He succeeds with pristine command of five pitches.

Heyman says the Yankees are among the teams expected to pursue rotation help, which, duh. Yeah, they do have seven starters either under contract (CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka) or team control (Luis Severino, Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, Adam Warren), but there are a lot of question marks in there, mostly health related. Besides, there’s no such thing as took much pitching.

I don’t expect the Yankees to pursue Greinke at all. Aside from the fact they seem unlikely to drop huge money on another starter, they also steered clear of Greinke the last time he was a free agent due to concerns about his ability to handle the media spotlight in New York. He had no trouble in Los Angeles, but whatever. It seems a little silly but the Yankees have focused on that stuff quite a bit in recent years.

Joel Sherman spoke to a Dodgers official who agreed Greinke is in line for a five-year, $150M contract this winter.  That may sound surprising, but Cliff Lee and Sabathia signed five-year contracts worth $120M or so at age 32 a few years ago — Sabathia’s deal was his extension after 2011 — so adjust for inflation and you get five years and $150M for Greinke. Then again, the Lee and Sabathia contracts are cautionary tales.

The free agent pitching market is pretty stacked this year. In addition to Greinke you have other aces like David Price and Johnny Cueto, solid secondary targets like Jeff Samardzija and Hisashi Iwakuma, and back-end types like Ian Kennedy and Mike Leake, among others. The Yankees will have plenty of free agent rotation options this winter if they decide to go that route.

All things considered, the rotation stayed fairly healthy this season. Tanaka, Pineda, and Sabathia — the three biggest injury risks — combined for 80 starts. That’s more than I think many folks expected, including myself. Eovaldi ended the season hurt though, and Warren still hasn’t gone through a full season as a starter, so some depth would be appreciated.

No Gluten, All Dingers [2015 Season Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

It’s easy to forget Mark Teixeira was pretty good last year. At least in the first half. His .216/.313/.398 (101 wRC+) batting line and 22 homers were broken into a .241/.341/.464 (126 wRC+) line with 17 homers in the first half, and an ugly .179/.271/.302 (63 wRC+) line with five homers in the second half. First half Teixeira was pretty good. That guy in the second half was terrible.

Coming into 2015, the question was which Teixeira would show up? The first half version of Teixeira, who wasn’t great but was good enough to help? Or the second half version, who looked like a guy ill-equipped to get through a full season one year removed from major wrist surgery? As it turns out, neither version showed up in 2015. The Yankees had a different, better version of Teixeira this year.

The No-Fun Diet

Following last season Teixeira admitted he wasn’t physically strong enough to play a 162-game season after having his wrist rebuilt in 2013. He changed, well, everything. He changed his diet, his workout routine, his entire offseason program. The goal was to add muscle and get stronger. As part of that new offseason program, Teixeira cut gluten from his diet. He called it a PED: performance-enhancing diet.

“(I was on a) no-fun diet. Then I kind of basically just went back to what I’ve always done, and that’s just hit the weights really hard because I need to be strong. I’m a power hitter, a guy that has to drive the ball from both sides of the plate, and that’s what I did this offseason,” said Teixeira to reporters after reporting to Spring Training. What sort of impact would it have? That remained to be seen.

The Spring

I remember watching Teixeira in Spring Training and being slightly concerned he wasn’t hitting for power. He wasn’t even driving the ball to the warning track, stuff like that. It was Spring Training, I knew better than to read too much into it, but I couldn’t help myself. Teixeira had a miserable second half in 2014 and wasn’t that far removed from wrist surgery. I was hoping for a strong showing in camp.

Teixeira finished Grapefruit League play with a .250/.300/.375 batting line in 21 games. He hit just one home run. I was concerned. Not panicked, but concerned. Teixeira was going to turn 35 in April, he hit only five homers in the second half in 2014, talked all spring about his new diet and offseason routine, and he wasn’t showing much power in Spring Training. It was a red flag to me. Even Alex Rodriguez was mashing taters after his year away. I should have known better. I did know better. But I didn’t listen to myself. Spring Training has a way of breaking you, man.

Singles Are For The Weak

Like a few too many of his teammates, Teixeira went hitless on Opening Day, taking an 0-for-3 with a walk. He then had exactly one hit in each of his next seven games. Six of those seven hits went for extra bases. Three doubles, three homers. Most notably, Teixeira hit a game-tying home run in the 16th inning of that 19-inning marathon loss to the Red Sox in the first weekend of the regular season.

That missing power I was worried about in Spring Training? Hah. Teixeira hit eight home runs in the first 18 games of the season. He also had four doubles. Singles? Teixeira had three of those. Through 18 games Teixeira was slugging .729 with a .475 ISO. That’s such a small sample it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just fun to write.

Teixeira didn’t sustain that home run pace — eight homers in 18 games is 72 across a full season — but he still mashed. Eight homers in 18 games. Ten in 24 games. Thirteen in 38 games. As late as June 5th, 55 games into the season, Teixeira had more home runs (17) than singles (16). June 10th was the day Teixeira finally had more singles than homers.

When it was all said and done, Teixeira finished the season with 22 doubles, 31 home runs, and 47 singles. He’s only the eighth player in Yankees history to bat at least 400 times in a season and finish with more extra-base hits than singles, joining … drum roll pleaseCurtis Granderson (2011), Nick Swisher (2009), Jason Giambi (2006), Danny Tartabull (1993), Roger Maris (1961), Lou Gehrig (1927), and Babe Ruth (1920-22, 1927-28). No gluten, no singles.

Reversing The Split

From 2010-12, the three years between his one elite season in pinstripes and his wrist injury, Teixeira hit .236/.333/.451 (112 wRC+) against right-handed pitchers and .283/.377/.550 (147 wRC+) against left-handed pitchers. He’s a switch-hitter, yes, but he still had a platoon split. That’s not that uncommon, really. Teixeira was a monster from the right side of the plate and just okay from the left.

This season Teixeira reversed that split. He crushed righties and was merely above-average against lefties, which is actually preferable. There are a lot more righty pitchers than lefties. (Teixeira had 312 plate appearances against righties and 150 against lefties, so yeah.) Anyway, here are the splits:

Mark Teixeira splits

The raw production was better against righties — Teixeira hit for way more power as well as a higher average from the left side of the plate — but golly, look at those strikeout and walk rates against lefties. Even removing the intentional walks, he still had more walks (15.8%) than strikeouts (13.0%). Teixeira saw the ball well from the right side of the plate, he just didn’t get as much BABIP love. (Even by his low BABIP standards.)

It’s tough to evaluate Teixeira’s numbers from 2013-14 due to the wrist injury, though he was still better against lefties (102 wRC+) than righties (94 wRC+) those years. Considering we’re talking about only 150 plate appearances against southpaws this past season, my guess is Teixeira has not suddenly reversed his split and become a true talent better hitter from the left side. It’s probably just sample size noise.

Still, for the Yankees this season, having Teixeira crush righties was really valuable. (His 25 homers against righties were his most since he hit 30 against righties in 2009.) They also missed him against lefties down the stretch. That was obvious. Teixeira was a force at the plate this summer, and for the first time as a Yankee, he was more productive from the heavy end of the platoon.

The Defense

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Remember early last year when Teixeira was actually sorta shaky with the glove? He bobbled a few grounders and failed to make some scoops early in the season, plays even an average first baseman would make, and I thought it was just rust from the long layoff in 2013. Those struggles did linger most of the season. Teixeira was still good at first last year, but not as crazy good as he had been in the past.

This year though, Teixeira was back to being an outstanding gloveman at first base, one of the very best in the game. He’s not the rangiest guy in the world but he makes every scoop — how many errors did he save Chase Headley this season? — and makes every throw. He also grabs hot-shot grounders. Twenty players played at least 900 innings at first base this year. None had fewer errors than Teixeira (three).

Errors aren’t the best way to evaluate defense, but it is pretty easy for a first baseman to pick up errors because of bad throws from the other infielders and whatnot. They tend to get dinged for failing to scoop a short hop and stuff like that. Either way, Teixeira was great in the field this year. A good defensive first baseman is one of those things you don’t really appreciate until you have a bad one out there, but man, Teixeira’s defense is still world class.

The Foul Ball That Changed Everything

Injuries have been a problem for Teixeira in recent years. It’s not just the wrist either, though that’s obviously the big one. He’s had calf and hamstring problems too, and remember the weird cough that just wouldn’t go away a few years ago? Teixeira played in only 261 of 486 possible regular season games from 2012-14.

This year things appeared to be different. They were different for a little while. Joe Girardi did give Teixeira the occasional day off, and he did miss one game with nick stiffness in June, but otherwise Teixeira played in 109 of the team’s first 117 games. He started 107 of those 117 games. Then, in that 117th team game, Teixeira fouled a pitch off his shin:

The timeline from there is pretty wild. It took almost four weeks (four weeks!) for the injury to be properly diagnosed. Here’s everything that happened:

  • August 17th: Teixeira fouls a pitch off his shin. X-rays were negative.
  • August 18th: Teixeira goes for more tests, which show a bad bone bruise.
  • August 23rd: Teixeira resumes light baseball activities. He took batting practice and did some light running.
  • August 25th: Teixeira returns to the lineup. He goes 0-2 and comes out of the game in the sixth inning of a blowout loss.
  • August 26th: Teixeira doesn’t start but does pinch hit. He grounded out to end the game. Little did we know, that would be his final at-bat of the season.
  • August 30th: Teixeira goes on medication to deal with the inflammation around the bone bruise.
  • August 31st: Teixeira is sent for more tests. “We’re not happy with where he’s at. Just trying to get him healthy,” said Girardi.
  • September 1st: An MRI shows a more significant bone bruise than initially realized, but no fracture. Teixeira is put on crutches.
  • September 4th: Yankees place Teixeira on the 15-day DL. It’s a paper move so the team could call up a reliever before his ten days in the minors were up.
  • September 8th: Teixeira receives two injections to help relieve nerve inflammation.
  • September 11th: Yankees announce Teixeira is done for the season with a fracture in his shin. The latest round of tests showed the previously undetected fracture.

Those are just the major milestones in the Teixeira leg injury saga. There were daily “he’s still sore but he thinks he can pinch-hit” type of nuggets. In the end, it took three rounds of tests to find the fracture and of course it’s fair to wonder if anything (or everything) he did from the point of the foul ball to the fracture diagnosis made the injury worse. We’ll never know the answer to that though.

The fracture came with a three-month recovery period, officially ending Teixeira’s season. Prior to the wildcard game, Teixeira was with the Yankees and introduced during the baseline introductions. He came out on to the field using crutches:

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The injury comes with a three-month recovery timetable, so Teixeira is right in the middle of his rehab work right now. He is expected to be ready for Spring Training. The injury really put a damper on what was otherwise an outstanding season for Teixeira, both offensively a defensively. He hit .255/.357/.548 (143 wRC+) with 31 home runs and great defense in 111 games. That earned him his first All-Star Game selection since 2009.

Teixeira hit his most home runs since 2011 and had his best overall offensive season in pinstripes since 2009. His batting average isn’t what it was back then, but boy, Teixeira hit for a ton of power. Among players to bat at least 400 times this season, only Bryce Harper (.319) and Chris Davis (.300) had a higher ISO than Teixeira (.293). He was the Yankees MVP and a fringe AL MVP candidate at the time of the injury. The leg injury stunk. It really did. But Teixeira was awesome when was healthy.

Looking Ahead to 2016

Hard to believe it’s already been seven years, isn’t it? The 2016 season is the final season of Teixeira’s massive eight-year, $180M contract. Even with Greg Bird‘s strong showing down the stretch, Teixeira will be the Yankees first baseman next season. The team may scale back his workload slightly and give him more time at DH, but there’s no reason to think he won’t factor into the middle of the order. Teixeira is one of the team’s best players, if not their best all-around player. The leg injury this year was just a dumb fluke thing.

Fan Confidence Poll: October 19th, 2015

2015 Season Record: 87-75 (764 RS, 698 RA, 88-74 pythag. record), lost wildcard game

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the Features tab in the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

Yankees fire hitting coach Jeff Pentland and bullpen coach Gary Tuck

Pentland. (NY Daily News)
Pentland. (NY Daily News)

According to George King, the Yankees have fired hitting coach Jeff Pentland and bullpen coach Gary Tuck. Apparently the rest of the coaching staff will remain in place, including assistant hitting coach Alan Cockrell. Cockrell could be considered for the main hitting coach job.

“I am not coming back,’’ said Pentland to King. “When I signed, I was told it was probably a one-year deal. That was always in the back of my mind, but we didn’t look too good the last month. It’s the Yankees, that’s the best way to describe it. I have no regrets.’’

The Yankees went from 20th in runs scored to second this season, though most of their players struggled down the stretch and late in the season. After firing Kevin Long last offseason, the Yankees will be on their third different hitting coach in three years next season.

It’s a bit more surprising the Yankees let go of Tuck, to be honest. He worked well with the team’s catchers and Brian McCann has credited Tuck for improving his throwing. McCann has thrown out 36% of base-stealers as a Yankees after throwing out only 24% with the Braves. It’s worth noting former bullpen coach Mike Harkey was let go by the Diamondbacks a few weeks ago. I suppose he could be in the mix to replace Tuck.

As for the hitting coach, the Yankees could look at Cockrell and other internal candidates like Triple-A Scranton hitting coach Marcus Thames and minor league hitting coordinator James Rowson. Both interviewed for the job last year. I’m curious to see if the two hitting coach system, which is so common in baseball nowadays, will remain in place.

Sunday Night Open Thread

A fun little piece of Yankees news broke this morning: Alex Rodriguez will serve as a guest analyst on FOX for the remainder of the postseason. He was on their NFL pregame show today and managed to break a monitor (video). Only Alex. In all seriousness, A-Rod is really smart baseball dude and it seems like he’d have a lot to offer as an analyst. I’m looking forward to seeing how he does.

Anyway, here is the open thread for the final few hours of the weekend. The Mets and Cubs will play Game Two of the NLCS a little later (Syndergaard vs. Arrieta, 8pm ET on TBS), and the late NFL game is the Patriots at the Colts. Talk about A-Rod the analyst, those games, or anything else here. Have at it.

The Competing Alternatives

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

In a vacuum, it’s never a bad thing to go into a season with more than five options to fill out a team’s starting rotation. After all, how many times have we heard the line, “There’s no such thing as too much pitching” thrown about? It’s a cliche that is true; having “too many pitchers” from which to shape a rotation is like having “too much” pizza. But that is only true in a vacuum, not reality. What if it’s too much Pizza Hut/Domino’s/Papa John’s? We could certainly argue that one slice of that “pizza” is already too much. And in baseball reality as opposed to a baseball vacuum, having lots of pitchers doesn’t necessarily mean you have lots of good pitchers. So stand the (potential) 2016 New York Yankees.

Given the end of the 2015 season, the Yankees have no fewer than seven pitchers who could all lay some claim to spots in the starting rotation. Of course, given their contracts, Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia aren’t leaving that rotation any time soon. Nathan Eovaldi, returning from injury, impressed in the second half and he’ll likely round out the rotation’s top three. He’ll be followed by the sometimes big Michael Pineda in the fourth spot and Luis Severino, who proved he belonged in the Majors during the second half, will finish out the five. No one, however, makes it through a season with only five starters, so we’ve got to consider Ivan Nova and Adam Warren as other options in the rotation. Every single one of these pitchers has some sort of question mark as we move to 2016.

All of those pitchers, save for Warren and Severino, spent time on the Major League disabled list at some point in 2015 and there’s a good bet that Tanaka, Sabathia, and Pineda hit the DL at some point in 2016 (though you could say this about any pitcher who’s ever picked up a baseball). Aside from that, there’s the performance concern with Eovaldi and Severino. While they certainly shined in the second half, can they repeat it? Eovaldi’s got a whole bunch of innings that don’t look like the ones he compiled after his disaster start in Miami and Severino is still in his early 20’s with big potential, but also big bust potential (stop me if you’ve heard the one about young Yankee starters not living up to their promise with the organization). This is all a roundabout way of saying that the Yankees would be wise to go shopping for a starting pitcher–either by free agency or trade–once the World Series ends. Predicting the trade market is hard and, remember, your trade proposal sucks, so let’s just focus on three free agent starters that I’m sure will be a frequent topic of conversation ’round these parts in the next few weeks: David Price, Jordan Zimmerman, and Jeff Samardzija.

Price is the obvious number one choice here. He’s a big lefty who’s shown he can hack it in the American League for a long time and the Yankees love that. Zimmerman is a big righty who’s thrown no fewer than 195 innings since 2012 and has excellent control. Samardzija, as he has been previously, has already been linked to the Yankees and is a potential reclamation projects, something the Yankees also love.

I hate this. (Elsa/Getty)
Price. (Getty)

In that old, familiar vacuum, Price is the guy the Yankees want, need, and sign; he’s almost too perfect for them not to. But in that old, familiar reality, there are two big roadblocks to price: time and money. It’s highly likely that the front office and/or ownership will view a potential big contract for Price as just another CC Sabathia contract: pretty great at first and then an absolute disaster by the midway point.

With Zimmerman, there’s likely to be a draft pick issue: do they want to give up a draft pick for Not The Best Guy Available? There’s also the fact that Zimmerman will likely demand a huge price tag, which his performance may not live up to. Don’t get me wrong here as Zimmerman is a very good pitcher, but he’s been “up and down” (though all good) in the last few years. He’s got two dominant ones–2012 and 2014–and two seasons that are “only” above average-good (2013, 2015). The Yankees may balk at Zimmerman’s (potential) salary demands if they don’t think he’s capable of being that 2012/2014 guy more often.

Samardzija. (Jason Miller/Getty)
Samardzija. (Jason Miller/Getty)

Then there’s Samardzija. Like Zimmerman, he may have draft pick compensation tied to him. Like Zimmerman, and to a greater extent than Zimmerman, there are most definitely performance concerns with him. After all, he just had his worst professional season in which his strikeout rate dropped 5.1% from the year before and his groundball rate plummeted to below 40%. Despite that, there is a ‘bang for your buck’ factor with Shark if he signs a pillow contract to see him through to the next offseason.

These guys all come with some risk, but we could argue it’s less collective risk than the risk represented by the pitchers currently in the Yankees’ employ. One of them–or any of the other free agents I didn’t list here–is a necessity, though. The 2015 Yankee rotation is not sustainable for 2016, even with great bullpen management  by Joe Girardi. Each of these guys could be the wrong option for the listed reasons, but they could also be the right guy for the listed reason. Though he’s not the best of the bunch, Zimmerman probably represents the best option for the Yankees. He’s more of a sure thing that Samardzija and is likely to be less costly–both in terms of years and money–than David Price.

Ironically enough, though, after all these words, I wouldn’t be surprised if neither of these three guys landed in the Bronx for 2016 and beyond. I might be a touch disappointed, but I wouldn’t necessarily be shocked either. Whether it’s these guys or others, however, the Yankees need to do something to bolster the rotation going forward, even if there are a lot of options already in house. Because you can never have too much pitching.